Magnificent vistas, endless rolling plains teeming with life and a reputation that precedes itself like few other wildlife destinations on the planet of ours.
Yes, this is the awe-inspiring Masai Mara.
I was fortunate enough to host the last Wild Eye Great Migration Photo Safari here alongside long-time friend Morkel Erasmus. To say that we had a ridiculously abundantly blessed and amazing time would be a total understatement. The Mara rewarded our guests richly with an experience they will never forget. They brought back so much more than mere images. The Mara gripped hold of them, from the culture of the infamous Masai to the scenery, stunning wildlife and powerful experience of living along the banks of the Mara River.
As to be expected, our guests’s initial reason for visiting the Masai Mara during this time of year was undoubtedly to see the incredible herds of wildebeest before heading southwards to the Serengeti for the calving season.
Boy did they get that and SO much more.
See, one can easily travel all the way to Kenya with the only goal to witness the great herds and crossings. I feel this is a flat out mistake. The Masai Mara has so much more to offer its visitors and by delving a little deeper you will soon discover that, as our Wild Eye guests did.
That said, seeing as the great herds and crossing are in fact a big reason (and a very good one) that our guests travelled with us, it would be rather rude of Morkel and I not to introduce them to this marvellous spectacle.
As we left camp on our first afternoon we with rewarded with an incredible sight of exactly that…
To see thousands upon thousands of white-bearded gnu is something that is extremely difficult to describe. It is a totally overwhelming feeling, something that leaves you jaw-dropped. As far as the eye can see, the plains rolled out in front of you is covered in wildebeest. Our mobile Wild Eye camp is based on the Mara Triangle side, and the wildebeest gathered in massive numbers in preparation for the annual journey southwards.
By massive numbers, I am guessing well over 500 000 wildebeest. Perhaps even more, little tough to count 😉
To lay eyes on such an event is something all should see at least once, and if possible time and again. It is indescribable.
You would think that after a few days of seeing wildebeest wherever you looked one would grow tired rather quickly, but thats far far truth.
Life for the Mara Triangle’s resident herds continue regardless of the migration. Our Wild Eye guests were thoroughly introduced to all of these characters throughout the 7 day visit. The placement of our mobile Wild Eye camp allowed us to be in a predator-dense part of the reserve. I can’t recall a morning the lions were not waiting for us at the camp entrance. How amazing is that?
The fact that we had lions in our viewfinders so early in the morning allowed for some great photographic moments.
We spent a lot of our time with the various prides in the area and our guests got to know them intimately.
We would focus on them a lot during the late morning to midday hours. This is the time many of the large herds of wildebeest would come down to the Mara River for a drink. The lions knew this and would position themselves accordingly. Many people are opposed to this absolutely spectacular natural event, the hunt. It is a crucial part of life in Africa, the fight for survival.
Our Kenyan guides James, Jimmy, Tim and Sammy were right on the money when it came to timing. They know these lions well and were able to set our guests up with great opportunities.
We witnessed many of the attempts as wave after wave of wildebeest passed by the waiting lions. They needed not try their hardest knowing their luck will eventually turn. Our guests were fortunate enough to witnesses 2 lion kills from beginning to end. Simply amazing!
I allowed my guests the best seats in the Land Cruiser and captured some of the action as I got the chance. That said, I still managed to get some of the action.
It can be hard at times to watch one animal lose its life. Keep in mind that out here as one life is lost, another gets to live.
As with anywhere in Africa, there’s the clean up crew. Although hyena are more than adequate at hunting their own food, they do such a good job of cleaning up behind lions.
On one occasion lions had killed four wildebeest within close proximity of one another. The pride dragged one of the carcasses to the closest shade and seemingly abandoned the remaining three to the waiting scavengers. As you can imagine, the hyena and vultures had a field day!
Vultures always provide for endless entertainment. They will fight and squabble regardless of the fact that there is over 200 kg’s of meat in front of them. They do so in a very clumsy manner that leaves us all in stitches by the end of it all from laughter.
Halfway through our 7 day Migration Safari, some of our guests got to experience the Mara from the air in the form of a hot-air balloon safari. The balloon is prepared way before sunrise, a thrilling experience to witness.
The feeling of seeing the Masai Mara from the air is impossible to describe. The silence of the balloon (except for when the burners are firing, searing half of your face) allows you to not only see it, but to hear it from the skies, as if soaring on the wings of an eagle. This vantage point revealed the true scale of the area to me and my guests, and allowed us a glimpse of the great herds from the air.
I can safely speak on behalf of us all when I say that the landing site was not exactly what we expected. As our fantastic pilot David Chipping mentioned the words “about to land” and “there’s a lion” in the same sentence, my guests were slightly alarmed. From experience I knew that we would be perfectly safe and that the lion would far prefer to stay away from us that devour us one by one. My guests on the other were not so convinced but had no choice than to simply go with it.
Take a look at the image below for the scene that awaited us at our “landing strip”.
The young male soon made way for the large balloon to land. To add to the mornings excitement, we ended up on our backs. What a fantastic experience and one I am sure to repeat given another opportunity. Thanks to Governor’s Camp for an unforgettable experience in the skies of the Masai Mara!
The balloon flight gave us a view of the Mara the way all of its avian inhabitants see it every day. It was beautiful beyond words.
We also got to see some great birds whilst driving through the plains. Two of my favourite birds gave our guests some amazing photo opportunities.
I think the stars of the show, besides all the wildbeest, lions, elephants, birds and balloon flights must have been the cheetah family.
The cubs had not yet been seen until our arrival. The cubs were still very young and our timing was perfect as the female decided to introduce them to the world outside of a protective thicket where they would have spent their first few weeks as defenceless little cheetah cubs.
Seeing such tiny little cheetah cubs is an amazing experience indeed. As you can likely imagine, every movement from the cubs was greeted by a chorus of “ahhh’s” and “eeeks” from the surrounding Wild Eye game viewers. I think that at times one would get so caught up that you would completely forget to photograph them.
She is a fantastic mother, no doubt. Whilst watching them we saw her hunt twice, both successful. She would patiently scan the plains laid out in front of them, waiting for the perfect opportunity. It is not easy to use cover in the Mara in order to close the distance between predator and prey. She was selective and awaited the right opportunities. The first was a female gazelle wandering about on her own, big mistake. The second kill was a little gazelle fawn. The fawn never stood a chance as the mother cheetah’s speed was just too much for the little gazelle.
Watching the cheetah family feeding in the rain was an amazing experience. It was raw Africa, un-edited or scripted! The brave family were completely exposed and throughout the entire process the mother cheetah never once relaxed. She knew her precious cubs were at risk out in the open, and with the rain falling around them, it would be tough to hear any approaching danger such as lion, leopard or hyena.
As soon as they finished feeding and the rained cleared away, she started grooming them. This was stunning, such a fantastic example of motherhood out in the wilds of Africa.
A sad part of leaving the Wild Eye Camp is undoubtedly saying goodbye to the staff in camp. From Dickson and Frances hosting the guests out front, to Mary and her team preparing the food and taking care of the camp in the back, they are all beautiful people and an integral part of the success of our Wild Eye safaris in East Africa.
On our last evening in camp, the Masai prepared a goat for us as part of a traditional evening. Getting to learn more about their culture and practices is always a great experience for our guests.
There’s a lot to be said of the Masai Mara. It is likely the most well known National Park on the planet.
Many have formed their own opinions of it before ever setting foot on it. Some good, some not so good.
Yes, it can get busy, there are many visitors who visit here annually.
I firmly believe that every person with or without a passion for wildlife, regardless of photography, should experience the Mara at least once. It will change your life, it will leave a lasting impact on you in a way you could not have imagined.
Imagine seeing sights like this…
The Masai Mara has something special to offer each one of you. Our Wild Eye guests experienced that first hand.
If you are interested in joining us here in 2015, simply click HERE for more information.
The Mara and all it’s characters awaits you…
Marlon du Toit
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